Local PMO Forum events return to provide PMO leaders and executives with industry insights

Marion Baxter.

Project Management South Africa (PMSA), with the support of Project Portfolio Office, a provider of Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) tools and solutions that is committed to developing the project management profession, officially relaunched its Gauteng and Western Cape PMO forums for the first time since COVID-19 ended face-to-face events in early 2020.

The virtual forum, which combined local and international members, saw Marion Baxter, recent winner of the PMO Global Alliance (PMOGA) 2021 Africa PMO Leader of the Year award, provide practical advice to the more than 100 PMO leaders and executives in attendance to succeed in digital. age.

Baxter, a seasoned PMO leader with a strong track record of leading multiple strategic skill centers, also heads the Project Management Office (PMO) of Sanlam Group Technology (SGT).

Key Attributes for World-Class PMO Leaders

Baxter explained that there are several key characteristics for successful PMO leaders: consistent delivery of value that aligns with business goals; having the right team behind you; and take care of these team members.

“It is essential to stay close to the heart of the business and be aware of its challenges, opportunities and aspirations, promoting stakeholder decision-making. Here, a deep understanding of the portfolio you are offering is essential. Be clear about the outcome, but flexible about how to get there, and always encourage innovation.

“Secondly, it’s critical to hire the right resources and surround yourself with the right people, and even more so to make sure you’re looking after the PMO team and empowering members to make decisions. . This team will help you take care of the business after all, taking the pressure off you as a leader,” she added.

How does your PMO move away from administrative perception and secure a seat at the strategic table?

“If your PMO doesn’t have the ability to sit down with the strategic leaders of the business, the first question to ask is whether having a PMO is strictly necessary. Why not have an admin and manager in place instead? Baxter asked.

Unfortunately, she said, PMOs that are seen as having only administrative capabilities are not seen as adding value and helping to achieve strategic business goals.

“You could say there’s a disconnect between what the administration-focused PMO does – for example, too much focus on processes and practices, or making sure it ticks the boxes of governance and audit – instead of what it should be doing, which brings value to the business.

The first step to overcoming this view, according to Baxter, is to determine what problems the PMO should solve. “Will it solve the resource problems? Demand or pipeline issues? Prioritization or practices perhaps? Will it be a talent pool? It’s important to have a strategic conversation, highlighting the purpose of the PMO and the value it can bring.

“Without making these decisions, you won’t be able to formulate a roadmap that will organically help you scale and deliver to the business. So make sure the company buys into your track record — that there’s skin in the game for your leaders — and show the value of your track record on a quarterly basis.

“From a delivery, people, process and tooling perspective, you need to be realistic in showing where the PMO can make a difference. Have conversations with the right people and be sure to show them how their needs will be met. Don’t dwell on governance – obsess over results and value. »

The impact of the pandemic on CPM

All PMOs have withstood varying levels of stress over the past two years, needing to prove their resilience time and time again, Baxter said. “For example, today’s remote way of working has led to team members losing that direct connection with each other and an imbalance in work/life balance has seen many people suffer from ‘burnout.”

She went on to say that even though the productivity of Sanlam’s PMO has increased by 200% over the period, the focus has been on supporting team members to ensure this is sustainable. . “The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation plans of many organizations and this was no different in the case of Sanlam. In fact, a collaborative project has been brought forward from our planned timeline of one year to two weeks. We managed to do this successfully by introducing new ways of working, but the key to this success was networking with other teams and ensuring that we mobilized all the necessary resources. We have also focused on change management, developing these capabilities over this period to help make a lot of big changes and to make sure the changes made have been accepted.

“The establishment of work/life balance processes and best practices, which have been continuously reinforced, and an employee wellness program has been key as it has helped provide excellent support to our teams.”

Is it a matter of agility?

Many PMOs are being asked to deliver in a more agile or hybrid way and it can be difficult for some to understand this. And with so many existing delivery frameworks, Baxter was asked how a PMO should decide which options are most appropriate for delivering a specific project?

“A few years ago, it was said that there was no longer a need for project managers or leaders, just Scrum Managers and Product Owners, and that the focus was no longer on projects, but only on delivery. While there is some truth to this, and every PMO should have an agile delivery culture, agility at scale can be significant and disruptive.

“What should not be lost sight of is that the program in place has a vision to which the team responds, a vision aligned with the needs of the organization. Businesses may like agile approaches because they can see change happen quickly, but the project manager maintains the end-to-end project and product delivery. So it’s important to find the middle line and what will work for your organization, achieving the goals in a more hybrid form. »

PMOs start and grow

Baxter’s advice to companies new to project management is that the PMO should be positioned as an integration hub, which can help companies that have felt the pain and need help solving these challenges.

“The starting point should be to do an as-is GAP analysis and see how value can be delivered without causing too much disruption to the business,” she recommended. “Establish why the PMO is needed and speak the language of the business – have the conversations and engagement with management. Expand your network and get help establishing your project-driven culture through communities like PMO Forums, from a lessons learned perspective.

“Start small and grow: practices and processes should grow with your business. You may not receive the budget to deploy a maturation plan or to organically improve practices and processes, but as you are able to demonstrate greater value and funds become available, they will be more likely to reach you. »

What future for PMOs?

According to Baxter, the future of PMOs is very positive, both locally and globally. “But, as mentioned, you need to secure the PMO’s position within the business, building yourself as the trusted brand of the organization.

“Fortunately, there are platforms available for you to improve what your PMO does, which can help you here. “For example, the South African PMO Awards recognize PMOs that continuously deliver and add value This is important because we are then able to learn from each other’s best practices, share our knowledge and learn continuously, by elevating ourselves,” she concludes.

PMO leaders and executives from Africa and beyond who wish to join our growing community of like-minded individuals committed to advancing the project management profession are invited to register here.

Jennifer C. Burleigh